The Good Son

Dean prided himself on disconnecting as soon as the gig was over, treating every hunt as just another job. Most of the time, it was easy, but this time was different. He couldn't let go of the bond that had developed between him and that lost little boy, Lucas at Lake Manitoc. He understood him. Hell, 22 years ago, he was him. He had bottled up so much of what had happened that night, keeping it tightly lidded, or so he thought, but when he recognized and understood the fear that Lucas was feeling, it seemed wrong to hold his feelings back because he knew they could help him. It was hard to open up at first, but once he started, seeing that by telling him, he had broken through the wall that Lucas had built, it made recalling those memories less painful. He also knew that by revealing his feelings in front of Sam, he would want answers too and though he dreaded the inevitable, somewhere inside of him he knew he would give Sam whatever he needed to know.

Sam looked over at his brother and caught some emotions play across his face ever so briefly before they disappeared, hidden behind a mask of deep thought. He had seen a side of Dean that he didn't know existed, a side that reached out to Lucas in a way that Sam couldn't, a common loss and the memory of losing a beloved parent. Sam could claim the loss, but not the memory. He knew that Dean cared, cared beyond any man he had ever known in his life, including his father. As a hunter, he was brutal, cold at times, he had to be, otherwise the both of them would have been dead long ago, but unlike their father and the other hunters they had come across, Dean possessed compassion. It didn't always show as outward expressions of emotion, but it did with the actions he took like he had with Lucas.

"You really cared about Lucas, didn't you?" Sam said softly.

Dean thought for a minute. There it was, the first of many questions, but he was ready for them.

"Yeh, I knew what he was going through."

"Dean, I'm sorry about what I said about you and kids –"

"Don't be, you weren't wrong. Hell, other than Lucas, I haven't been around kids in a long time, but you did forget one thing."

"What's that?"

"I had you."

Sam was taken aback by the comment and more guilt had filled him. How could he have forgotten that Dean had practically raised him, took care of him when their dad went on his hunts. He had fed him, read him books when he couldn't sleep, sometimes slept with him with a gun in his hand when he was too frightened to be alone. Dean had been there all along.

"Dean, I-" Sam paused. "Did you ever wish that I hadn't been –"

"Never." Dean said immediately and emphatically, knowing the question almost instinctively.

"But how did you get through it? I mean…" Sam trailed off.

Dean sighed and his jaw clenched.

"You."

"What?"

"You got me through it, Sam."

Dean pulled the car over to the side of the road and shut the engine off. He knew that they were knee deep in the discussion so they might as well talk about it now as opposed to later. He might not have the courage later.

"First off, I want to make it clear that I never once regretted or resented taking care of you." Dean paused.

He turned to face Sam.

"There are some things you need to know, that you deserve to know and I guess now is as good a time as any to tell you." He took a deep breath, trying to find the words, knowing the wrong ones would give Sam the wrong impression.

"That night, I remembered a lot more than I told dad." He started.

Sam kept quiet to give Dean time to talk at whatever pace he needed. He felt if he said anything, he would stop talking and dismiss the subject. Sam needed to hear what he had to say.

"I saw mom on the ceiling that night. It was just for a second, but I did. I couldn't erase it from my mind for a long time." Dean took a breath. "When dad started to…pull away, I knew I couldn't sit around and feel sorry for myself. I had you to think about. What I told Lucas was true. I knew even at 4 that I had to be brave for our family, for you."

Dean looked away for a second, assembling his thoughts then turned back to him.

"All you remember is dad's dark side, but that isn't all he is. I remember the man he was before. He was caring, loved his family, loved you. After that night though, I saw the change happening to him and I couldn't stop it. I don't hold it against him, but the two of us weren't good enough reasons to keep him from the darkness." Dean sighed as his eyes started to well up and he cleared his throat. "As I got older, I realized grief can do that to you, if you let it, make you give in. I could have let it, but I had you. You saved me from that darkness."

Dean paused to take another breath and Sam stared at him with his own tears welling at the surface.

"Though dad hired baby sitters and nannies to take care of us when we were young, by the time you were 5, I was taking care of you. I tried to fit in as much normal stuff as I could because I knew that dad couldn't give them to you. We couldn't escape the training. He was determined to make sure that we could take care of ourselves in other ways. He once told me that our family had been marked by evil and that we had to be ready because of that. I didn't doubt him. I couldn't. I saw what it did."

Sam listened attentively. Dean was opening up to things that he had no idea about.

"I wanted to give you what I had for a little while. You deserved that. It wasn't your fault all that happened."

"Wasn't it? The demon was after me." Sam said, unable to help voicing the nagging guilt that had always been with him.

"Is that what you think?"

"It's true, isn't it? It was in my room, hovering over my crib when mom…" Sam said, his voice cracking.

"And you think just because of that, it's your fault that mom died?"

"Dad thinks that."

Dean was the one who was taken aback this time. He didn't know that Sam knew about the demon being over his crib and he didn't know he had felt such guilt about it.

"That isn't true."

"He's the one who told me it was after me."
"Because you had a right to know and if you remember, you asked him what happened that night. He didn't tell you because he blamed you."

"I'm not so sure."

"Look, you and dad have always had your differences, but one thing I can guarantee is that dad loves you. He doesn't blame you, I know that for a fact."

"How?"
"Because he told me. He may have forgotten how to act like a father at times, but that doesn't mean he doesn't love you."

"But the demon it was in my room. You can't deny the facts." Sam insisted.

"Yes, it was in your room. Yes, mom walked in on it trying to hurt you. And yes, she did what any mother would. She tried to save you, but she couldn't. None of that makes it your fault. You didn't ask for this demon to come to you. You were an innocent baby. The fact is, we don't know why it was there, but evil exists. We know the reality of it. Evil killed our mom, Sam, not you."

Dean was so certain of his convictions. It was hard to argue against them.

"Sometimes it's hard not knowing for sure. I don't know how you can be so sure."

"Because you're a good man, Sam. Every day I see it. You treat people with kindness, you give them the benefit of a doubt, you're not hardened and I never want you to be, like I am. We can't deny what we face every day, but you don't let it tarnish your belief that there's good in people. I admire that. I want you to believe that for the rest of your life."

Sam's face evoked a sense of wonder at the older brother who had raised him, given up all he had to make sure that Sam got even the smallest taste of a normal childhood.

"You're a good man too, Dean. You're not like dad. You gave up everything to make me feel like a regular kid. You made me less scared of the dark, of who I was."

"Well, couldn't protect you from everything, but I tried." Dean evaded a little.

"You did a lot. I mean, I had friends, people who liked me at school because you taught me what normal was."

"Yeh, and dad taught you how to beat the crap out of anyone who even tried to tell you otherwise. Gotta admit that training came in handy." Dean grinned widely.

"Yeh." Sam agreed with his own grin. "You even helped me with my homework."

"Well, I'm not the brainiac that you are, little brother, but I can hold my own." Dean said with feigned defensiveness.

A small, but pleasant silence then fell between them.

"Dean?"

"Yeh."

"Did you hate me for leaving for Stanford? Leaving you with dad…making you give up everything -" Sam asked.

"No, Sam. I didn't hate you and I wasn't mad at you. I was mad at dad for not being happier for you, but you have to know, he was proud of you, I was proud of you. He was just scared for you. So was I. We couldn't protect you if you were away."

"But I didn't put family first."

"Sammy, the hunting, the training, it made me the man I am. It suits me. You needed to find your own way. I had already found mine."

Dean took in a deep breath.

"I wanted to keep us a family for as long as I could. We were dealt a really crappy hand, especially you, but we didn't have to let it destroy us and where it counted, it didn't. We're still a family, a dysfunctional one, but still a family." Dean joked, then turned serious. "A part of me wanted to make mom happy. I knew that she wouldn't want you to lose out on being just a kid because of what happened to her."

"I know. You were always there for me. I depended on you a lot. I still do." Sam said, "I'm not messed up because of you."
"Well, I don't know about that." Dean teased.

"Freak." Sam retorted.

"Bitch."

They smiled and laughed as Dean started the car and they got back on the road to the next town.

oooo

They decided to stop at the first motel they found. They were both exhausted and needed to get a good night's sleep before doing any more research for the next job.

Dean showered first and let the hot water penetrate his sore muscles. He leaned against the tiles, trying to steer his thoughts away from bad memories and towards dreamless sleep. While his eyes were closed, he thought he heard a whisper. It was a decidedly feminine voice so he didn't even bother asking if Sam had said anything. He stood still in the shower to try and hear it again.

"Help him… " the voice said.

"Help who?" Dean asked quietly.

"He needs you…" she said.

"Who?" Dean asked again.

He knew not to dismiss strange events like hearing voices. He knew it meant something. He just had to figure it out.

"You're the only one who can."

Dean's eyes widened a little as the voice began to sound familiar.

"Mom?"

"Dean…" she called.

"Is Sam in danger?"

"He needs you…"

"Tell me how I can help him."

"By being you…"

"What?" Dean asked, completely confused.

Silence. The voice didn't come back, but he knew he had heard it. It wasn't exhaustion playing with his mind. His mother had found a way to warn him about a threat to Sam, but without the details, he didn't know what to do and he certainly couldn't tell Sam. He would just have to be extra diligent about the signs and hoped that his mother would try again.

"Hey, don't hog all the hot water." Sam yelled, breaking Dean's concentration.

"Yeh, yeh." Dean yelled back as normally as he could.

He toweled himself down and took a breath. He had to make sure Sam didn't suspect anything.

"Punk." He said as he entered the room.

"If I get cold water –" Sam joked.

"Just get in there." Dean joked back.

Once Sam was in the shower and the water was running, Dean dressed in comfortable sweats and lay on the bed. At first he didn't think that he could get to sleep, but no sooner did he lay down, he was asleep in an instant, more tired than he thought.

oooo

While they were eating breakfast at a nearby diner, they overheard some of the gossipy neighbors talking about a cop who had disappeared after entering what seemed to be the local "haunted house". After some careful questioning, Sam and Dean decided to research the claims and had found that there had been a lot of reports from next door neighbors of strange sounds and other "ghostly" activities, such as shadows moving past windows, happening at the house. Then a few nosy kids had disappeared while playing ghostbusters there. More recently, a cop had gone in to investigate a report of someone hearing a scream, but he never came out. The house had been abandoned for 20 years so no one had lived there since. They figured it would be a routine poltergeist event, in and out, problem solved, so they took it on.

Dean, though, was still very much aware of the cryptic warning his mom had left him, but nothing about this case seemed to stand out as a veiled threat to Sam so he wasn't worried, just on high alert.

They entered the house cautiously as they always did and decided to split up to cover more ground. Dean had decided to head to the basement and Sam headed upstairs.

He walked down the stairs carefully, flicking his flashlight around the walls, but they seemed ordinary. It was just a basement, the usual stuff on the shelves, old chemicals and broken toys. He continued to walk until his light caught a shadowy figure.

"Who's there?" He called out.

No answer, but the figure walked closer towards him. He tried to focus his beam of light on the shadow to get a better look, but it never formed well enough for him to determine what it was. He then tried to grab his gun filled with rock salt, but suddenly, he felt himself being pinned to the wall.

"What do you want?" Dean asked.

"What I want is your brother."

"What? Why?" Dean panicked, remembering what his mom had warned him about.

"Because he has the gift I need."

"Gift? What gift?"

"Give him to me. You are the only one who can give him to me."

"No way. I will NOT give you Sam!"

"You will."

"I can guarantee that won't happen."

"Your cry for help will bring him to me."

"What makes you think –"

Then Dean felt it, something cold, smooth, yet sharp entered into his abdomen. The pain was excruciating, his eyes clenched tightly and his mouth opened, but remembering what the thing had said, he bit back a scream. He wasn't going to play into its hands. Still the pain ripped through him and he stiffened against the wall.

"You must bring him to me."

"Leave him alone!" Dean said in gasping whispers.

"I need his gift."

"What gift? What do you- " Dean asked again, frustrated at the non-answers he was getting but was cut off abruptly with a deeper plunge into his stomach. It was the worst pain he had ever felt in all the hunting he had done, but he kept his discomfort to soft moans and shallow breathing.

"If you don't give him to me, you'll die."

"Then I guess you'll have to kill me." Dean said. It was an easy choice. "Because I will NOT give him to you."

"You have no idea the kind of power you are dealing with."

"Well, since you've got me pinned here, I think I have a pretty good idea." Dean sarcastically said.

"Then why fight me? Give me what I want and you'll be freed."

"Because what you want is my brother and I won't have you do to him what you doing to me."

"You'd rather die than save yourself?"

"For Sam, yeh."

The demon smiled in a way that brought a chill to Dean then it laughed and he knew then that there were worst things than dying.

"Then I'll have him come to me."

"What? I thought you said –" Dean said, wincing with pain.

"It would be easier if you gave him to me, but clearly I underestimated your will. I cannot take him myself. He must be offered or he must give himself to me voluntarily."

"Well, that's not going to happen."

"If he cares for you as you seem to care for him, it will."

"What are you talking about?" Dean said, feeling very worried. "Don't you hurt him, don't you touch him!"

"Oh, I can't do either, not yet anyway, but there other ways for him to surrender to me."

The certainty in its voice scared him.

It then produced from the darkness what seemed to Dean a smoky tentacle. It transformed into a solid, black ice pick and then the demon plunged it into Dean's chest. It took whatever will power he had left not to scream. The pick felt searing hot and seemed to burn him internally. Then it dissipated into the air like dust. Dean was near unconsciousness from the pain, but in his hazed state he heard Sam calling to him.

"Dean?" Sam called out to him. "Where are you?"

"Your last chance to save yourself, answer him."

"No." Dean insisted tiredly.

"Dean! I can't find you!" Sam said, his voice suddenly sounding like it did when he was 6 years old. "I'm scared, Dean. Don't leave me, please."

Dean was being torn up emotionally, "was this a trick?" he asked himself. Was the pain making him hallucinate? He felt a fuzziness clouding his mind and senses and it seemed to be dulling the lines of reality. In his hazy and helpless state, he saw a little Sammy walking into the room, dressed in his pajamas, dragging his favorite blanket behind him.

"Dean, can you tuck me into bed? Read me a story? I'm scared."

Dean struggled to get past his pain and tried to get free, but he failed. He felt so weak. Even though a part of him knew that what he was seeing wasn't real, it was still terrifying for him to see Sam helpless and vulnerable. The demon let him go and reached for little Sammy. It scooped him up and all Dean could do was watch helplessly and scream as it took Sam away.

"SAMMY!"

Then everything went black.

oooo

"Dean? Dean?" Wake up, are you okay?"

Dean opened his eyes sluggishly to the reassuring sounds of Sam's voice. Maybe everything he had seen and heard were just a bad dream.

"Sammy?"

"Yeh, Dean, I'm here. You were having a bad dream."

"Where's here?" Dean said confused.

"The hospital."

"Hospital?"

"You don't remember?"

"Not getting here…must have passed out back at the house."

"Do you remember what happened to you?" Sam asked.

"Yeh, I remember being in the basement and I was pinned against the wall by a dark shadowy figure that I couldn't make out…last thing I remember was that it had a large and sharp tentacle and it drove it into my chest. I must have passed out after that."

Dean didn't want to bring up the hallucination. He didn't want to scare Sam. Still, he noticed that he looked upset.

"It's okay, Sam. I'm okay. You got me out of there." He comforted.

Sam cast his eyes downward, afraid to look at him. He then got worried.

"Did something happen to you when I passed out? Are you okay?" He asked, concerned.

Sam smiled, but it faded immediately. Leave it to Dean to put him first and not even consider what might be wrong with him.

"I'm fine, Dean, but…"

"What? You can tell me. You're just scaring me now."

"Whatever that thing was and whatever that tentacle was, it injected something in you."

"What?" Dean asked, shocked.

"The doctors don't know what it is, not that I'd expect them to. All they can tell me is that it's a foreign substance in your blood that they can't identify and it seems to be attacking you on a cellular level. Like cancer, but not exactly." Sam finished, feeling exhausted and lost.

"I'm going die, aren't I?"

Sam looked away.

"Huh…" Dean tried to say lightly.

He really couldn't think of anything else to say, given the situation, it wasn't a complete surprise. The demon was trying to stop him. With him out of the way, it could find a way to get to Sam.

"Do the doctors know how long?" Dean asked, his voice switching to battle-ready mode.

He needed as much information as he could get so he'd know what his next move had to be.

"No, they could only guess…"

"And the guess would be?" He pressed.

"Dean, don't make me say it." Sam pleaded softly.

"Ah, not long then." Dean concluded.

Sam could only hang his head.

"Well, as soon as I am out of here, I'm going back to the house."

"Dean, they don't want you –"

"I'm not going to lay here and wait to die, Sam. I won't. Whatever is in me, it came from that demon so I have to find it. Even if I don't make it, I'd rather be doing that than just letting it happen without a fight."

Sam wasn't surprised by the answer. Dean had always been a fighter.

"Okay, we'll –"
"No, not we, just me."

"You don't think I'm going to let you do this alone."

"No. I know I couldn't even if I had the strength to stop you. I know how pig headed you can get, but let's face it, Sam, in the end, it's me and the demon. Even you can't argue that. It's the only one that can save me."

"Or kill you." Sam said with concern.

"It's a risk I have to take. It's a 50-50 shot. I've had worse odds."

Sam paused and realized he couldn't argue.

"You can start by doing more research on the house and its history since I'm stuck here until they let me out. I'm on borrowed time, Sam." Dean said practically, hoping Sam wouldn't detect more than that.

Sam nodded.

"Get going. I'll see you tomorrow."

There was nothing more to be said between them. It had to be business as usual otherwise Dean would die. He knew that all the research in the world wasn't going to find the answer. The poltergeist story had been just a trap, a reason to get them to the house or more accurately to get Sam there. The answer was in that basement and he had to get there before anything happened to him. What he knew that Sam didn't, was that if he didn't kill it, the poison would kill him and once he was gone, it would have Sam. Sam would give into it because his grief would lead him there. Just like grief took their father away. He understood what the demon was.

oooo

After about an hour, he undid all of the IVs in his arm as carefully as possible then turned off the monitors before he pulled the leads off of his chest. Wouldn't want to flat line prematurely, now would we? He laughed to himself. He got dressed quickly and snuck out of the hospital.

As he got closer to the house, the pain got stronger. It was as if the poison was designed to keep him from it, but an inner will to save Sam kept him moving. He had to stop and start a few times along the way when the pain became harder to control. He tried to act inconspicuous, but sometimes he drew a concerned look. He'd just try to smile and kept moving. When he finally faced the house, he was practically doubled over in pain. He fought as hard as he could to continue the control until he was finally in the house, only then did he allow himself to collapse against the wall to rest, but still fighting against succumbing to it.

As he tried to straighten up, he heard his mom's voice again.

"Dean…" she said.

"Mom? Help me…mom." Dean grunted out.

"Hold on…you have to make it for Sam's sake." she said.

"I'm trying, mom…I…know…what…will happen to Sam if I don't make it, but I don't know how…to stop this thing. I need you…" Dean then groaned as he doubled over again. "Oh, god…"

"Basement…" she said. "Find…familiar…"

Dean understood. In their world, a familiar only means one thing. The demon was working for another master. Dean was breathing hard, struggling to keep conscious. He practically crawled down the steps one at a time to the basement, holding onto the handrail, fearing if he fell, it would be over for Sam. He got to the bottom and squeezed his eyes in the hopes that he could clear them and his head, but it barely helped. He scanned the room then he spotted something. It was just a doll, but what set it apart was that it was pristine, no dust, not even a cobweb was on it. Dean smiled as he thought to himself, what self-respecting spider would even go near it. Of course, he'd go near it. He had to. For Sam, he had to destroy it. He walked toward it, its dead, glassy eyes staring back at him. Its creepy smile was mocking his efforts.

"Yes, Dean…" his mother said, guiding him. "You're strong…stronger than your father…stronger than Sam…"

"I'm trying, mom…"

"I know you are and I'm so proud of you…I feel how hard you're trying for Sam…"

Dean struggled towards the doll, then pulled out his lighter. He looked around for an accelerant to help the burning and saw a small can of lighter fluid. It was just a little further away, but it would feel like a mile away, still he managed to reach it.

"Stop!" yelled a dark presence behind him, but he tried to ignore it, to keep his focus.

Dean squeezed the can and whatever fluid was left in it spilled onto the doll.

"It won't do you any good. Your brother is mine. He is lost to you." The voice taunted.

Dean just laughed and flicked the flame on his lighter.

"It ain't over 'til it's over, you freak and I'm not down for the count yet."

Dean then screamed in pain, the wave nearly drove him to his knees, but he held himself up with his free hand and sneered back in his signature Dean way.

"Is that the best you got?" He grunted.

Dean's hand on the lighter began to shake from the pain, but he kept thinking about his mom and Sam. He couldn't fail them. They were both counting on him. Then bubbling beneath the uncertainty was anger that this demon was going to hurt Sam and do things to him that he didn't want to imagine. The thought turned the anger into determination.

"I won't let you win, you bastard. You don't know who you're messing with."

With every last bit of strength that he could muster, he lit the doll on fire.

"No!" the demon cried out and then vanished into the musty, dusty air.

Along with the demon, Dean's pain eased and the tremendous effort he had exerted fighting it was released with it. He dropped to his knees then leaned back against something he was too tired to identify. Even though he was aware of the building flames, his body had nothing left in it, any reserves of energy he might have had were spent. Then a soft voice whispered.

"You have to go, Dean…" she said.

"Can't, mom…too tired…too weak…" Dean breathed heavily.

"You can, Dean…" she said and then her voice caught. "You have no idea how important you are to them… Without you, Sam and your father would never survive. Your love for them keeps them fighting, keeps them alive."

Dean's breathing was raspy and rapid.

"Can't I go with you, mom? I'm so tired."

"No, Dean. I know you're tired, but you're needed here. You have so much to do. Please try for me. Please live for me."

Dean nodded and swallowed then with every nerve screaming at him to stop and just lay, he tried to lift himself up and was steadying himself on his wobbly legs.

"Live for Sam…He needs you more than he lets on…" she said and then the voice stopped.

"I'm trying, mom."

Dean tried to take one stuttering step after another, knowing he had to hurry, but his body not cooperating with him. Every step he took was tiring and residual pain caused him to stop and take several breaths.

"DEAN! DEAN?" Sam's voice penetrated his weakened mind and he had to smile, knowing that he was safe.

Sam saw the flames engulf the basement so he was desperate to find him.

"DEAN! Please answer me!"

"Sam!" He yelled as best as he could, but every part of him was giving up one by one.

Sam then spotted him and hoisted him over his shoulders. Dean tried to help because he didn't want to become dead weight to him, but he was barely holding it together. They finally rushed out of the house and it whooshed up in a fireball, flames completely engulfing it, cleansing anything within it.

oooo

Dean woke up again in the hospital. He felt so weak and so tired that he wasn't sure where he was or what day it was. His body ached, but the pain of the poison seemed gone and that came as a relief. He turned to his left and tried to focus his eyes on the figure sitting next to him. When his vision cleared, he was relieved to see Sam there.

"Sam…" Dean said, noticing how hoarse he felt and sounded.

"Dean, just rest."

"How long have I been out?"

"A couple of days." Sam said.

"I feel wrecked…"

"You're gonna feel that way for a little while. You took quite a beating in the house and the poison –"

"Is it –"

"It's gone. Probably left your system as soon as you destroyed the demon." Sam paused. "Dean?"

"Yeh? Is time for my lecture now?" Dean said anticipating Sam's reaction to him going it alone.

"Why did you go after it without me?"

Dean looked at Sam trying to find a way to explain things, but his mind was just a jumble of thoughts that he couldn't organize.

"Because it was my fight, and before you say anything, it wasn't to exclude you, but to protect you."

"I can take care of myself, you know, you don't have to protect me." Sam said a little belligerently.

"Yeh, I do, but not because you can't handle yourself. I know you can…"

"Then why?"

Dean closed his eyes. He was trying to decide if he should tell him about their mother's messages. To tell him that he was special and that a demon wanted him for his gifts would only make Sam feel more guilty and convinced that he was the cause of her death and worse, that he put Dean in danger. He knew his brother. He would take on the responsibility of anything happening to their family because no matter how much he covered it, he felt he was the reason that their family became hunters in the first place.

"Mr. Winchester, you have to go now, visiting hours are over."

"But –"

"Your brother needs rest. Come by tomorrow." She insisted as she shooed Sam out of the room.

Dean smiled and silently, to himself, thanked the nurse for saving him. He knew he'd have to face Sam eventually, but for now, all he wanted to do was sleep. As he closed his eyes, he heard his mom's voice again.

"You did it, Dean." she said.

"Mom…" Dean whispered. He didn't want anyone to put him in the psych ward. "Sam…don't know what to tell him…"

"I'll tell him…it should come from me."

"Mmmm…"

"Dean?"

"Mmmm." Dean said, exhausted and begging for sleep.

"You're a good son. I will always love you."

Dean then fell asleep to the reassuring sound of his mother's voice.

oooo

Sam went back to the hotel, feeling irritated that Dean had taken it upon himself to risk his life alone and had just told him it was for his own good. Sam felt like Dean was treating him like a child. He resented not being respected for his abilities and laid on the bed, angry. It was then he heard the voice.

"Sam Winchester!" the voice sounded angry.

"What? Who?"

"Dean saved your life."

"Mom?" Sam said, surprise in his voice. "Where are you?"

"How dare you be angry at him?" She scolded him.

Sam then realized the voice was in his head and questioned whether it was real or not.

"Yes, I'm here. Both of you needed me so I'm here."

"Mom…" Sam said wistfully, his anger dissipating.

"Sam, I can only stay a while, but I need you to stop feeling sorry for yourself and appreciate Dean and his sacrifices. It's not about glory for him."

"I do, but I need him to know that I can take care of myself."

"He does, but there are some things you must trust him about."

"But I want to help him."

"I know…"she said, her voice softening to comfort. "I know you love him."

"I want to protect him because he's done so much for me. I can't lose him, mom. I don't know what I would do…" Sam sobbed, letting his real emotions wash over him.

"I know, Sam, but he protects you out of love, not to diminish who you are or what you're capable of. You won't lose him as long as you understand that he needs you as much as you need him and sometimes, he has to protect you."

Sam thought about it and felt guilty.

"If you're going to be angry, be angry at me, I left you." She said.

"No, I couldn't…you didn't mean."

"I know, but better me than Dean who has been there for you from the beginning. Filling in where I couldn't."

Sam closed his eyes.

"Your independent nature, your need to be someone different than you are, gets in the way of seeing Dean the way you should. You are a Winchester, Sam, as he is. You can't run away from that. I'm sorry your father didn't teach that lesson well, but look to Dean because he lives it every day."

Sam sighed and nodded.

"I'm with you always in your hearts. You have to know that."

"Was it my fault, mom? What happened to you?"

"No, Sam. It was never your fault."

"Then why?"

"I don't have all of the answers. All I know for sure is that Dean will always be there for you. Trust him, believe in him."

Suddenly, there was silence and Sam knew she was gone. He felt her leave and it left him feeling both warm and alone at the same time.

"I do believe in him, mom. He's the only one I do believe in."

He then let himself drift into sleep, thinking about what she had said.

oooo

The next day, Sam visited Dean again and found him asleep. He didn't want to wake him and started to leave, but Dean had felt his presence.

"Where do you think you're going?" Dean teased as he opened his eyes.

"I didn't want to wake you."

"Already awake, just resting my eyes."

"Yeh, right." Sam smiled then sat next to him. "How are you feeling?"

"Like Wiley Coyote after an anvil hit him, but the pain medication is great." Dean smiled goofily. "How you holding up?"

"I'm okay. Dean…Mom came to me last night."

Dean didn't act surprised.

"What did she say?"

"To stop being such a whiner. Happy?" Sam joked then sighed. "And she told me that what happened to her wasn't my fault."

"Good, because it wasn't, just like anything that happens to our family isn't your fault." Dean sighed back. "I'm sorry I can't give you that normal life now like I could when we were kids."

"I know and she reminded me that my wanting to escape isn't going to change who I am. Running away to Stanford or anywhere else isn't going to change that. That got chosen for us, by mom's death."

"And dad's grief."

"Did she…"

"Yeh, told me about the demon." Dean said leaving out what it wanted. "She was afraid it was going to get us both. She was just being a mom. I didn't know everything until the end."

Better to have Sam think it was about the both of them then just about him. He hated to lie to him, but it had to be this way for Dean to protect him.

"Dean, I'm sorry."

"Sam, how many times have I gotta tell you, no click flick moments?" Dean teased, but Sam saw in his eyes that apologies weren't necessary.

"Punk."

"Bitch."

7/28/06 9:51 A7/P714